Friday, May 08, 2009

sampling the apple in manzanillo

According to Quicken, I last set foot in a large store like Costco only three weeks ago.

If you had watched me yesterday morning, you would have thought that I had just got off of the boat from Kyrgyzstan.

For the past week or so, I have been corresponding with the author of
New Beginnings in Manzanillo. She was arranging a backup veterinarian for me if I could not get a cortisone shot for Jiggs.

With that project out of the way, we decided to meet in Manzanillo. Neither Darrel nor I had seen the town. I needed some office supplies, and I knew they would be available there. I also wanted to see where the grocery stores were located.

The drive down was uneventful. But when we pulled into town, we knew we were not in our little fishing village any more.

We both felt like the small-town boys that we are. Manzanillo has a population of only about 110,000 -- smaller than Salem. But after the three weeks of living in Melaque with its 10,000, we felt as if we were driving down Fifth Avenue in the Big Manza.

We joined up with New Beginnings, who was kind enough to guide us through this Veritable Oz. I will not bore you with the stores we walked through. But I now know where I can get some specialty items -- when I need them.

Of course, it means planning for those needs. Manzanillo is close by -- but it is still a two-hour round trip to buy hoisin sauce.

But the best part of this trip was getting to know New Beginnings. I have followed her blog before she made the move from Canada.

We had lunch on the beach, and talked about most of the topics any blogger would discuss, including her love for her two dogs.

But we talked most about learning Spanish. She took the home immersion course in La Manzanilla that has interested me.

Listening to her speak Spanish was incentive enough for me to look into that course.

But no "Steve drives in a new place" post would be complete without a near disaster -- in this case, two near disasters.

The first occurred after we stopped at a food specialty store. When I pulled onto the main boulevard, I failed to turn into the correct portion of the divided highway.

The next thing we all knew, we were faced with a wall of traffic heading our way. Any decent cartoon would have included three sets of distended eyeballs accompanied by an oogah horn. A quick exit over the median saved us from being another "tourists in
Mexico" statistic.

We were all just recovering from that incident when New Beginnings pointed out a building I had asked about. I should have seen it coming. But I nearly went through a red light while gawking.

All in all, a great day. If any of us need a good role model for fitting into Mexico, New Beginnings will fit the bill.

It may be some time before I see a Costco again. But I can be patient if it means avoiding another accident on the road to adventure.


Paty said...

My mantra for driving in Mexico is: As long as nobody gets hurt, it's OK. I particularly chant that mantra when someone is coming at me going the wrong way on a one-way. And it's really helpful in preventing heart attacks.

Islagringo said...

LOL! Sounds like a scene out of Roger Rabbit!

Felipe said...

Immersion course? On crossing the border, mi amigo, you entered a 24-hour immersion course. I sure hope you´re not planning on paying for an immersion course.

The best way to take advantage of your free immersion course is get some good textbooks, avoid Gringos, and get out there.

Anonymous said...

I have been visiting Mexico since 1962. I still don't understand why any nonindigenous person would ever drive there.

Babs said...

The "big city" syndrome. The first year I was in Mexico, I always rode with someone else driving to Queretaro (who had lived in Mexico since the 50's) I then ventured out following his example. Now I only go to Costco maybe once every three months or so.
No Necessito.....yeah.

el jubilado said...

Hey Steve .... maybe I should drive next week? We'll have to go downtown !!

glorv1 said...

It's good that these events weren't worse. Could it be that you are "nervous?" Maybe deep inside you miss "home." Everything takes time. I hope Jiggs is doing okay. Take care and I always look forward to your posts.

Steve Cotton said...

Paty -- I am certain that the drivers of the taxi and truck that were headed our way were probably saying the same thing. Or, more likely, something far more colorful about tourists. The adjectives escape me.

Islagringo -- Sir, you are now dippng in the pool of my inspiration.

Felipe -- Your point was well-illustrated yesterday. Even in a toourist area, we encountered very few English-speakers. And I am trying. When I go out to eat, I try using the words I know. In Office Depot, I even tried to ask where files were located -- and in as much Spanish as I could muster. By the way, the clerks in the Manzanillo Office Depot repeatedly asked if they could help me. First time that has happened since I left Salem.

I am not planning on taking the immersion course. My current living situation puts me in regular contact with only one American (my brother). And he will be gone in a week. Then, it will be Marta and the merchants. (A 70s Motown group?)

Francisco -- As long as I concentrate on driving, I am fine. I suspect I am starting to drive like an abuelito, but I now understand the reason for the syndrome.

Babs -- Once I feel comfortable with driving in Manzanillo, I am going to take on Guadalajara. That should earn me my cap and gown -- if not a diploma. I am reserving Mexico City for my doctoral work.

El Jubilado -- And here I was thinking you were the very soul of adventure.

Gloria -- It was simply another day in building on the joy of Mexico. I simply was not paying attention to what I was supposed to do. Learning the lane structure is a lot like learning irregular verbs. You just need to know what they are by experience.

Constantino said...

Don't think of driving to Guadalajara or D.F. , on second thought that's where you should come for about 30 days, to drive, then you can return to your little village, a new man....

New Beginnings said...

Any adventure would not be complete without a little adrenaline rush!!!

Steve Cotton said...

Constantino -- I was thinking the same thing. It would be like one of those tribes where the adolescents are put through the grueling tests of manhood. Come home carrying your fender or being borne upon it.

Steve Cotton said...

New Beginnings -- Said the woman sitting in the front row of the theatre.

Gman said...

I am feverishly attempting to read your entire blog from the beginning, and really enjoy your posts.

I want to retire someday to Mexico, and even though I have nothing to retire on, I am trying to make a plan on how to make it happen!

maria luz said...


Hang in there! Soon you will be an expert on life in Mexico on many levels.

About a year ago, I was having a conversation about driving in Mexico with a gringo pal who had lived a year in Chapala. He claimed to have no fear of driving anywhere in Mexico and had logged some 250,000 miles traveling the country. I asked him how he arrived at the point that he felt comfortable enough to attempt such a feat. His reply was, "I graduated from the Guadalajara School of Driving." I think that says it all.

I once lived in Mexico city for a year. Trust me, you may want to reserve that one for your second grad degree. Perhaps in quantum physics. Yeow-eeeee!!

Manzanillo hoy, D.F. en el proximo ano. Before you know it, you will be fast tracking those degrees.

Gosh. A man who knows what to do with a jar of Hoisin sauce??? Oh my! Be still my heart!!! Amigo, there is a love of your life out there somewhere for you. And, I bet it does not hurt at all. Ask Felipe.


Anonymous said...

Marta and the Merchants...that was the 60's not the 70's. And they actually sang their own covers.


Anonymous said...

I have been following your blog for the past week now, it actually started all because of New Beginnings! (clicked on hers by mistake from a search from Google, started reading and couldn't stop!)

After her blog, I read through A Canuck in Cancun, and found your blog from there!

After reading through all 3 blogs in 2 weeks (breaks at work, while watching tv), it's like I HAVE to check to see what you guys have posted!

I was so excited today to see that you met up with New Beginnings!

Anyways, I just felt it was time that I let you know I've been reading up on all of your adventures!

Good luck learning Spanish, and hope all is well with Jiggs!

- Reader from Alberta

Steve Cotton said...

Gman -- It is worth making the move. But plan the financial side very carefully. There are bargains down here, but I estimate that I am saving only 10 to 20% of my budget in Salem. But that was after I cut my Salem budget to the minimum -- about $2000 a month. Let me know if you have any questions. There are lots of good blog and web resources to help you with your plan.

Maria Luz -- Even with all of my mistakes, I am still pressing on with my driving. Mistakes do not seem to bother the locals -- when they make them. Driving in Melaque is as close to a free for all as I have ever seen.

Charley -- Grin.

Reader from Alberta -- Welcome aboard. It is always great to greet new readers and, especially, new commenters. New Beginnings is a hoot. Even with our driving misadventure, we had a great time. At least, I did.

Felipe said...

You should not even think of driving in Guadalajara. In Mexico City, even less so.

I have never driven in Guadalajara, but I suspect it is not much different than Mexico City, where I have driven lots.

In Mexico City, major streets often make no sense whatsoever. Things can come at you, and do, from any direction whatsoever at any time. At rampaging speed.

So the probability of an accident is far greater. And death too.

The second reason you should not drive in either of them is because you will be lost inside of, say, five seconds.

Some years ago, in Morelia, a Gringo gave me this good advice on driving in Mexico: Drive assertively but not aggressively. I have found that advice very useful.

Another element of driving here is dealing with the rampant rudeness of others. Oops, what am I saying?! These are such lovely people.

Larry in Mazatlan said...

You need to expand out of your present comfort zone with large box stores. Search out the mercados where the locals shop. The food is fresher and tastier and the vendors really love to talk. They love to get their hands on a fresh gringo to teach him the ropes. I've had a couple even close their stall to take me around and introduce me to some of the others.


Beth said...

Steve - every time I read about you having lunch or dinner on the beach, I sigh with envy.

In my opinion you're not missing anything at all by not shopping at Costco.

Steve Cotton said...

Felipe -- I will most likely restrict my urban driving to manageable towns like Manzanillo and Colima for the forseeable future.

Beth -- Darrel made a great tropical fruit salad for lunch today. We sat at the table with the ocean as our view. Not a bad life.

As for Costco, I agree that it is overrated. I am happy to find places where I can get a few specialty items. The bulk of my food will come from the local stores -- small though they may be.

Cynthia Johnson and Mike Nickell said...

Steve - In all my experience in driving in Mexico (truck, trailer, panting German shepherd and cranky husband), I'd say forget "defensive driving" and switch to "offensive driving."
As I've told you before, take the traffic lights, signs and speed limits as "suggestions" and go with the traffic. All those miles in our truck and not even a fender bender!!!

Steve Cotton said...

Cynthia -- Perhaps, "assertive" driving as Felipe suggests. But, I agree that defensive driving is a mistake; it's not even a good method in the States.

Larry -- I will only head off to Manzanillo for those oddities (like hoisin sauce) that I cannot find locally. For all of the much-touted freshness and taste of local vegetables, I have found the little markets, where the locals shop, sell vegetables with little to no taste, and much worse quality. They would not even be marketable in an organic store. However, the fruit is fantastic.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

We buy things like dried fruit and pine nuts at Costco, those things are actually cheaper there, some things are only available there. We used to buy some great crackers there but they don't sell them anymore. They also have the best price on paracetamol (generic tylenol) and we like the pizza at the snack bar. They also carry the dog treats (Barkey's) that Mr Dog can eat. He is allergic to wheat. We probably go to Costco once every 6 weeks.
I have never had a store keeper close his shop in the mercado and show me around. I have had them point me in the right direction when I was looking for something they didn't have.
I buy a lot less than I used to, and don't go to Costco to save money.
Steve does that $2k include rent? if it doesn't then Melaque is very expensive indeed.

American Mommy in Mexico said...

Just caight up from the week. Many adventures accumulating.

Loved the picture walk!

Steve Cotton said...

Theresa -- Costco will probably not be a regular stop for me. The closet one is in Puerto Vallarta -- a 4-hour drive one way. As much as I love pine nuts, 8 hours in the truck is just too much -- unless I am driving north to pick up people at the airport. Even in Salem, Costco was not a bargain -- especially for a single guy.

AMM -- Glad to hear you are back from your travel adventures. I look forward to posts. The walk was a fun post.

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you've ever driven in Boston, but based on my own rather extensive travels in the USA, and the comments of friends, it's definitely the most crazy city in the US to drive in. Crazy aggressive people, complete disregard for lanes, signs, etc., little enforcement, crazy street "plan." Yet Mexico City is far worse. That said, I've driven there a few times. It's manageable, but definitely requires your full attention. And I don't find the rest of the country all that much better.

If you can think of a car as having "personal space," the sense of an appropriate amount of personal space in Mexico is much smaller than here.

And the really fun part of driving in Mexico? No one wears seat belts! In cabs, you can almost never even find them. So whenever I go anywhere in a cab in Mexico City, I'm constantly telling the driver, "Relax, we're really not in a hurry," while gritting my teeth and gasping at all the near-misses.

But if you can drive in Mexico, you can drive anywhere. Just don't buy a very nice car.


Kim G
Boston, MA
The next best driving experience to Mexico City

Steve Cotton said...

Kim -- I was trying to think back on whether I have ever driven in Boston. I think the answer is "no." But I have regularly driven in Athens -- a great school to learn assertive driving.

But even driving around Melaque is challenging. Cars regularly drive on both sides of these country roads that are now part of the village. Kids. Chickens. Bicycles. Pedestrians. All mixed into a traffic stew topped off with liquored-up tourists from the central highlands.

Nancy said...

Steve, People sure are crazy to give you advice, aren't they? I love "Felipe" telling you you shouldn't drive in Guadalajara even though he'd never driven there! That takes the cake!

We've been driving down here just fine. It just takes a little while before it feels natural. And part of that is really knowing where you're going...which streets are one way, which are hazardous turns,e tc. We zip around with the best of them, now, and so will you.

When my sister was here she had to laugh at me "creating a lane" to flow around a stopped vehicle, etc. But if you don't flow, you really are a hazard.

So I say ignore everyone and just explore!

Steve Cotton said...

Nancy --"Creating a new lane." I like that. The next time I turn down the wrong way on a street, I will use your mantra.

Felipe said...

Steve, please tell Nancy that a better read of what I wrote will reveal that I said I had not driven in Guadalajara, true, but that I have driven in Mexico City lots. Weeks, months, tons of driving in Mexico City since my wife and I own an apartment there.

And I have ridden in public transportation in Guadalajara, Mexico´s No. 2 city, and I did not see that much difference. Lunacy.

Gringos come down here with ingrained reactions, and until some time has passed and one has learned those ingrained reactions (for instance assuming that others will stop at stop signs) can get you into trouble here and that new reactions are desirable and must become ingrained with time and painful experience, it is best not to venture into the heart of a major Mexican city.

If you don´t get nailed, you will get lost, hopelessly.

But Nancy is correct about one thing, "just explore." But don´t explore in the middle of Guadalajara until you have explored quite a while in smaller venues. Quite a while indeed.

Steve Cotton said...

Felipe -- As you say, I have a Pandora's Box of driving habits that I have developed over the last 40-some years. I need to re-deploy some of those flight school skills that have been hibernating for years. This is not driving; it is aerial warfare (with a missing dimension).

Mic said...

Catching up on posts today and just found this one on MX city driving which had me hooting :-) Reminded me of learning to drive in Manila PI. After awhile you develop blinders as the nose in front had the right of way. Eliminated half the problem as it was the others responsibility to watch your rear if you were in front...which was the object of the game. It was commen custom to start a new lane into the oncoming traffic if your side became "the road most traveled" ....sometimes even when it wasn't bogged down i.e. if you wanted to pass to get ahead of the pack - but that sometimes took awhile to find a path back into the proper side of the road. heh heh

Of course I can't have that fun anymore here in Alaska....for one thing we don't have that many roads - although the Seward Highway down the Kenai Peninsula is rather notorious.